On Thursday, Oct. 5, nearly 700 Christians attending the Feast of Tabernacles sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem held a Solidarity Gathering with Israeli communities living under constant rocket threat along the Gaza border. They were addressed by Mayor Ofir Libshtein of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council and former Knesset member Shai Hermesh, while Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amir Avivi provided a security briefing.
The Christian visitors then joined senior representatives of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund in dedicating a rehabilitated section of the popular Be’eri Forest in the western Negev Desert burned in recent years by arsonists launching fire kites and balloons launched from nearby Gaza. The ICEJ has partnered with KKL-JNF to replant and restore the 126-acre (512-dunam) plot, which today was renamed the “Christian Embassy Nature Park.”
Coming from more than 50 nations, the Christian visitors came down from Jerusalem today on a mass solidarity visit to the western Negev to tour the region in a show of support for the Israeli communities under repeated rocket fire from nearby Gaza. The solidarity rally was held at the high school of the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, adjoining Sapir College, and aimed to encourage the Israelis living along the Gaza border and to learn from their resilience. The large delegations of Feast pilgrims also visited sites where the ICEJ has placed more than 140 life-saving bomb shelters and is now helping to bring back to life some of the scorched green areas in the western Negev.
This was followed by the dedication ceremony of the new Christian Embassy Nature Park, located on the western edge of the Be’eri Forest, between the historic ANZAC Monument and the Gaza border fence. The ICEJ is working with KKL-JNF to restore the scorched area by planting native oak, eucalyptus and other broadleaf trees that are less flammable, provide plenty of shade and grow fast even in the dry desert climate. Other flowering bushes and plants also will be introduced to the Christian Embassy Nature Park to add to the beautiful scenery and attract more visitors. This includes a special planting of tulips this winter which will bloom around the time the carpets of red anemones also appear in the South.
Maintained for decades by KKL-JNF, the Be’eri Forest is a popular spot for Israeli families to visit, especially during the winter rainy season when the fields are covered with wild red anemone flowers. However, large parts of the Be’eri Forest were deliberately torched over recent years by fire kites and balloons released by Hamas arsonists in nearby Gaza. KKL-JNF had planted thousands of dunams of trees along the Gaza border over the decades, only to see 70% of these forested areas scorched by the rash of Palestinian arson attacks since 2018.
But now the ICEJ is partnering with KKL-JNF to replant and restore a heavily damaged section of the Be’eri Forest close to the border fence in an area now called the Christian Embassy Nature Park.
“Over the past year, the Christian Embassy has renewed our partnership with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael to help ensure Israel’s green future,” said ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler. “We are especially thrilled to be involved in this special project to restore a prime area of the popular Be’eri Forest. It will not only bring this beautiful corner of Israel’s natural landscape back to life, but the new growth also will help visibly shield Israelis from harm coming from Gaza, while leaving an enduring testimony to the Israeli people that Christians care about their land and future well-being.”
Ronnie Vinnikov, head of KKL-JNF’s Resource Development and External Relations Division, added: “The KKL-JNF’s fruitful partnership with the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem helps us make Israel green again. Together, we carried out extensive restorations in the Be’eri Forest following deliberate arson attacks that caused fatal damage to the environment. We heal the environment and during the process, we have also established safety and security measures for the residents of the area. I thank the many donors of the Christian Embassy—friends of Israel around the world—for their help and desire to be an important part of Israel’s transformation into a blooming and always green place.”